Siege of Maastricht, 23 February-3 March 1793

The siege of Maastricht of 23 February-3 March 1793 was the first step in the southern half of General Dumoiriez's planned invasion of the Netherlands, but ended in failure after the Austrians launched a counterattack across the Roer on 1 March. Dumoiriez began to plan for the attack on the Netherlands during January 1793. At this stage he intended to attack Maastricht himself, while General Miranda attacked Venlo, further to the north. The combined armies would then move north towards Nijmegen and Arnhem, and the crossings of the Rhine. By mid January Dumoiriez had changed his plans. He was now going to lead an attack along the coast towards Breda and Dordrecht, while Miranda commanded the attack on Maastricht. This would be the plan that was put in place in early February.

The defence of Maastricht was commanded by the Prince of Hesse-Philippstadt. As well as a small Dutch garrison, the town contained a force of French émigrés commanded by the marquis d'Autichamp, believed by the French to be 5-6,000 strong, while the artillery was being served by exiled officers from the French Royal Artillery. The town was situated on the west (left) bank of the Maas, facing Wyq on the east (right) bank. Any relief effort was likely to come from the east.

Miranda began his campaign before he had officially been informed of the declaration of war with the Netherlands, sending troops north along the Maas on 6 February to attack Dutch positions around Venlo, and to cut off the district of Wyq, on the east bank of the Maas opposite Maastricht. This prompt action won the approval of the War Minister in Paris.

Work began on the siege works at some point after 18 February, and they were completed on 23 February. On the next day Miranda summoned the town to surrender, but the Prince of Hesse rejected this call, and the artillery bombardment began on the night of 24-25 February. Miranda was under orders not to carry out a systematic siege, as that would have taken too long. Instead he was to bludgeon the town into capitulating with a prolonged high intensity artillery bombardment. On 25 February Miranda reported that he had 12,000 men on the right bank of the river, and presumably more on the left bank, surrounding the town. By 27 February Miranda was reporting that the town was on fire in five places, and would fall within ten days (although he had made the same predication ten days earlier, before the bombardment had actually happened), but he was also already aware that the siege was taking longer than Dumouriez had hoped. At this point Miranda was planning to leave 10,000 men under General Valence to continue the siege, while he would lead the larger part of his army (20-23,000 men) north towards Kerzel and Grave to join up with Dumouriez. This move was to begin on 28 February, but does not seem to have been carried out, for Miranda remained at Maastricht to the end of the siege.

On 1 March a new Austrian army under the Prince of Saxe-Coburg crossed the Roer, and defeated the French covering army around Aldenhoven. On the following day the French were forced out of Aix-la-Chapelle, and General Valence wrote to Dumouriez to inform him that all of the French dreams for Holland were over. Miranda learnt of the defeat of his covering army on the same day (2 March), just in time to evacuate the French force in Wyq before the Austrians arrived in force. With the situation to the south in some chaos, and the siege effectively broken, Miranda ordered his artillery to begin to move to Tongres, to the west of Maastricht, and on the important road from Liège to Brussels, which would be the site of most of the fighting of the next few weeks. At midnight Miranda ordered the rest of his army to move away, and by the morning of 3 March the siege was over. On 5 March Miranda joined up with Valence, and the French took up a new defensive position with its centre at Louvain, its left behind the River Dyle and the right at Malines.

For a few days Dumouriez believed that he could remain in the north, with his until-then victorious army, but it soon became clear that he would have to come south and attempt to restore the situation in Belgium. Instead he suffered defeats at Neerwinden (18 March) and Louvain (21 March), and was removed from command by the French government. Aware that if he returned to Paris he would probably be executed, Dumouriez was forced to flee into exile with the Austrians.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (12 January 2009), Siege of Maastricht, 23 February-3 March 1793 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/siege_maastricht_1793.html

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